If heading for Japan from New Zealand or Australia, the majority of the small number of cruisers making this choice, tend to take a route via the Solomons, Palau, Philippines and Taiwan. Some who spend more than one cruising season, may also take in parts of southeast Asia and Borneo. For those like us, who are not such keen tropical cruisers, the more direct route has some appeal, as well as allowing visits to relatively unfrequented islands. We chose to make several longer passages rather than make additional stops in Kiribati and the Marshalls. From a passage planning viewpoint heading to Wallis from Fiji against the trend of wind and current is not necessary. The rest of the route was all pleasant trade wind sailing. The various equatorial currents were of little consequence on this route. Once north of the equator it is certainly an advantage to be to the east of Japan when the trade winds take a more north-easterly slant. Those coming up from the Philippines along the island chain from Okinawa often have a long period of beating. However, as there are no Japanese ports of entry between Okinawa and the island of Kyushu, those cruisers coming north from Guam have the choice of joining the queue at Okinawa or sailing straight to Kyushu or Honshu. The latter passage is likely to involve an unpleasant transition from the trade wind belt to the temperate zone where there are often northerlies except during the summer rainy season.
We chose to arrive in Japan in November, partly because typhoons are rare so late in the year. However, this does mean wintering in Japan for those intending to continue on to the Aleutians and Alaska. For those used to European or northern North American winters, this is no particular hardship. Those who choose to arrive in Japan in the spring have the choice of moving rapidly through the country to leave by June or staying for the sweltering summer and risking typhoons.
We won’t duplicate the very full description of Fiji already in the FPI notes. However, it is worth noting that the current military government of Fiji is not in any way antagonistic to foreigners who visit the country, rather the reverse. We had some reservations about visiting Fiji because of the non-democratic nature of the regime and some of the measures it has taken to restrict freedoms in the country. We have to say that there were no obvious signs of repression in Fijian daily life. Those Fijians, both Melanesian and Indo-Fijian, with whom we raised the topic seemed happy with the stability brought by the regime and with its stated policies of national unity and integration. However, it was clear that they did hope for a return to constitutional democracy in the near future as well as a return to normal social and economic relations with other South Pacific countries, including Australia and New Zealand.
We made use of the Calder cruising guide for Fiji, which we found quite useful when used in conjunction with appropriate charts. Much of the non-navigational information is now out of date. For much of Fiji waters, CMap is quite accurate but not to WGS84 datum, thus caution is required in its use. Much of the charting is also fairly small scale. Navigational marks shown on charts for Fiji waters are not at all to be relied on. Many have disappeared and the function and position of those that remain is not always clear.
18:07.244S/178:25.300E, 10m, mud & sand
With Papeete and Noumea, Suva is one of the most important urban centres in the South Pacific Islands. Staff at the Royal Suva Yacht Club (RSYC) are helpful and the Club is generally welcoming to visiting cruisers. The Club will arrange clearance and transport of officials to anchored yachts, though it does charge a significant fee, around F$40, for this service. There is no guarantee that officials will come for clearance procedures in any great hurry. A wait of a couple of days is not unusual. This compares poorly to Lautoka or Savusavu, where clearance proceeds quickly, though with considerable paperwork. There is a small charge for quarantine inspection, but no other charges. Fiji operates a regional system of internal clearance, so it is necessary to clear out from Suva to head either west toward the area controlled from Lautoka or north to the area controlled from Savusavu. The customs office is at the commercial dock, Queens Wharf.
Most visiting cruisers anchor in the area off the RSYC. There are various small ships and fishing vessels on moorings whose swing must be taken into account. The anchorage area also shoals quite sharply inshore, as a result it is a longish dinghy ride to the Club.
One of the primary reasons for clearing in at Suva is that one can make direct application to the appropriate ministries for a cruising permit and any special permit to visit the Lau Group. The regulations for these permits change regularly, so it is worth seeking up-to-date information if necessary. Most of the ministries are at the northern end of the town along the sea front.
Fuel and water are available at the RSYC, but only by jerry can. There are several supermarkets in town a half hour walk from the Club or short taxi ride. Taxis are not expensive. There is also a very large market for fresh produce. Upstairs in this market one can buy yagona (kava root). It is necessary to stock up with some wrapped packages of the root as sevu sevu presents for chiefs at any villages one visits. We have had various recommendations as to the appropriate amount. In the end it seemed to us that about 300-350 grams was about right, though stall holders will try to sell you 500 grams in Suva, while those in Savusavu seemed to think that 200 grams was quite enough.
Yacht specific equipment is generally not available in Suva, though general hardware is. Parts and equipment can be shipped to the airport at Nadi on the western side of Viti Levu, where it may be best to clear them through customs oneself. From Suva Nadi Airport is a 5 – 8 hour bus ride away or a 4 hour expensive and hair-raising taxi ride! There are over-night ferry services to Savusavu from Suva.
Internet and telephone facilities are available in town from several providers. There are several banks with ATMs, which accept foreign cards.
Kadavu Island is one of the larger islands of the Fiji Group. With its attached reef complex of Great Astrolabe reef, it comprises a small cruising ground in itself. The island’s villages are generally more traditional than many on the two main islands and are less developed.
18:58.877S/178:25.116E, 14m, mud & sand
This is a long bay providing good shelter from all but north-east winds. The best anchorage is in the south-west corner of the bay off the concrete jetty below the store. There is water on the jetty and some basic supplies at the store. Caution! When approaching the anchorage it is essential to avoid the reef which extends half-way across the bay from the point on the southern shore near the western end of the village. (The extent of this reef is not adequately illustrated in the Calder guide). It is marked by a post at its northern end. Leave this post to port as you approach the anchorage. The northern arm of the bay shoals rapidly. There is good holding in sand and mud. Sevu sevu is not necessary here unless one plans to visit one of the villages.
The reef is well charted, but many of the navigational marks have deteriorated or disappeared. As in most of Fiji waters, good light and sensible coral pilotage procedures are essential. There is good snorkelling and diving in many places within and just outside the reef. There are a number of useful anchorages, but most are suitable only for moderate trade wind conditions.
18:45.285S/178:31.270E, 12m, sand & coral
The island has an attractive, well-maintained village and has occasional visits from small cruise ships. As a result, there is a floating pontoon, which makes dinghy landing easy, though the beach is also reasonably accessible. The anchorage gives adequate protection in settled conditions only. There is good holding in sand with some coral. There is a nice short hike up to the lookout on the hill at the western end of the island for views over the whole area of the Reef. Permission should be sought from the chief to visit neighbouring Namara Island. Sevu sevu is expected and the chief will want to see your cruising permit.
18:47.175S/178:29.742E, 10m, sand & coral
The island is uninhabited. It is small and pretty with beaches and some reasonable snorkelling. The anchorage on the north side gives reasonable protection from moderate trade winds in settled conditions. There is good holding in sand with some coral.
The Calder guide gives a good, clear description of the twists and turns of this passage. For most of the way the channel is fairly clear, but the shallowest part has an S bend where it is necessary to feel one’s way very carefully. There are some marks at the beginning and end of this section which give some indication of the channel at this point. Good light is essential.
19:02.693S/178:29.152E, 11m, mud & sand
This is a friendly, fairly traditional village built on the bank of a small river. The anchorage is in a reef-fringed pool where there is swinging room for one yacht. The best time to approach the anchorage is toward low tide, as the run-off from the river makes the reef hard to make out even in good light. There is good protection west through north to east. Though open to the south, the anchorage is sufficiently protected by reefs to be tenable in light to moderate south-easterly trade wind conditions. There is good holding in mud and sand. The dinghy landing is at the school and is approached along a channel on the eastern shore of the anchorage. Children from the village will almost certainly want to guide you into the village. Ask to see the chief and do sevu sevu. In 2010, the chief was Monassa. He and his wife, Millie, were very welcoming. Both speak English. Do not carry bags on your shoulder or wear sunglasses in this village.
Lautoka is a large town with services second only to Suva. There is a good market and bus services to both Suva and Nadi, as well as some ferry services to Vanua Levu.
Lautoka is a port of entry and controls clearance into the western division of the islands, which includes the Yasawas. If clearing in from abroad it is essential to take the boat to the anchorage off the Customs offices at the commercial wharf. If obtaining an internal clearance, it may be possible to leave the boat anchored in Saweni Bay, a pleasanter spot close-by, and bus into the offices with all papers. We have done this twice with no problem, but have heard of others who were required to bring the boat up to town. Saweni Bay is technically within the port of Lautoka.
Vuda Point Marina is near Lautoka. The marina is considered a reasonably safe place to leave a boat during cyclone season, either in the water or hauled out with the hull lowered into a tyre-lined pit. There are some yacht services at the marina.
A somewhat more modern and up-market marina is at Denerau, near Nadi. There are a variety of yacht services available there.
17:38.738S/177:23.549E, 5m, sand (inner anchorage)
This is a pleasant anchorage with good protection from all directions except north. There is an inner basin fringed by reefs, with room for perhaps four or five yachts. The outer anchorage, beyond the two arms of the reef, is still well protected, but deeper. There is good holding in sand. There is a picnic area beyond the little beach, which can be busy with locals at the weekends. The beach is an easy dinghy landing. Just up from the beach there is a very small shop. It is a 15-20 minute walk up the small road to reach the main Nadi-Lautoka highway, where there are plenty of buses into Lautoka. The motel on the west side of the bay no longer seems to welcome cruisers.
17:46.243S/177:11.335E, mooring No. 2 (anchorage is approx 200-300m west)
Musket Cove Resort and Marina is one of the few Fijian resorts to actively welcome cruisers. It also stages the annual Musket Cove Regatta in September. There is a small, well protected marina with stern-tie berths, power and water. A large number of moorings are also available. If all these are taken there is room to anchor, but it is very deep. There are fuel and food supplies available ashore, although the food is expensive. All facilities of the resort are available to cruisers including bars, restaurants and swimming pools. There is one computer available for Internet at the resort office. There is wireless Internet access on purchase of a card.
17:27.525S/177:02.689E, 20m, sand & coral
This is a pretty, uninhabited island with lovely white sand beaches and some quite good snorkelling. The anchorage gives reasonable protection in moderate trade wind conditions, but is open to the west and north. The anchorage is fairly deep with good holding in sand. The anchorage is often crowded and a small local cruise ship may come occasionally and take up much of the swinging room.
17:18.583S/177:07.372E, 14m, sand & coral
Waya is the southern-most island of the Yasawa Group. Yalobi Bay at the south end of Waya is an attractive anchorage off a large village. The anchorage is open to the south and southwest, but gives good protection in normal trade wind conditions, with good holding in sand. This is a popular anchorage and like most in the Yasawas, the villagers are used to visiting cruisers. In 2010 the chief was Tom with whom sevu sevu should be done. He spoke good English and was welcoming to cruisers. For the intrepid there is a steep path over the hill above the anchorage to the neighbouring village on the east side of the island. There is an alternative anchorage to the southeast off the village at the north end the smaller island to the south of Waya. This anchorage might give better protection in stronger south-easterly trade winds.
17:16.324S/177:06.716E, 14m, sand & coral
Nalauwaki Bay at the northern end of Waya is a large bay with several anchorage options. The most attractive anchorage is north of the village along the western shore, where projecting reefs should be investigated with care before anchoring in sand. However, it is also possible to anchor more in the middle of the bay toward the mouth of the stream which enters the bay east of the village. In strong conditions the bay might be subject to williwaws coming down from the high hills which surround it. Nevertheless, protection is good east through south to west. The bay is open to the north.
Narewa Bay, Somosomo, Naviti Island
17:04.875S/177:16.605E, 16m, sand & coral
Narewa Bay is a beautiful anchorage well north of the village of Somosomo. There is an extensive fringing reef off a long beach. The anchorage is well offshore, but is very well protected from even strong trade winds. There is good holding in sand. There is a path to the village for those who wish to make the hike, or it is possible to anchor further south into the broader bay off the village. Sevu sevu is not necessary if you do not visit the village. There are a few basic supplies available in the village. Fishermen may stop by to sell fish or lobster. There is a path from the beach to the windward side of the peninsula. Clara and Sanita live there. They are both quite old now, but are interesting to meet, as they are living very much in the traditional Fijian manner. She speaks excellent English. A small present of tinned food or batteries would be welcome. There is the wreck of an American WWII plane off the beach near their compound. Divers may be interested in exploring it.
16:49.433S/177:27.579E, 14m, sand
Yasawa Island is at the northern end of the group and is subject to generally stronger winds than further south as the southeast trades accelerate between the two main islands of Fiji. Land Harbour is at the southern end of Yasawa Island on the west side. The approach to the anchorage is easy and well charted. There is good holding in sand and plenty of swinging room. There is good protection from any direction but northwest. However, even the relatively low hills to the east of the anchorage produce pronounced williwaws in stronger conditions. There is a path to the village located on the south side of the island.
Bligh Water is the area of open deeper water between the two main islands. It is the only area in Fiji which can really be sailed across safely at night – so long as one reaches the other side in good daylight. This may require a certain amount of speed control especially when heading west with the trades.
Yadua Island is reputed to be a delightful place to visit. Sadly we were unable to do so, as in 2010 all foreign yachts were banned from visiting. We heard that this was because crew from a sailing yacht had stolen rare iguana eggs from this area of scientific interest, earlier in the year.
16:44.030S/178:31.716E, 6m, sand & mud
This long bay is very well protected from all directions except north. In sunny, settled weather a light to moderate day breeze blows into the bay from the north. The head of the bay shoals abruptly onto a shelf, which is coral at the sides and silt toward the head. There is good holding in sand and mud. There are some stick markers to show the best route into the beach below the village for dinghy landing. The small, neat village is fairly traditional and the usual customs should be observed and sevu sevu done with the chief, Lianisi in 2010, who was very welcoming but spoke little English, though his son and daughter did. The village is pretty, but there are no supplies. The village men dive for beche de mer on the outer reefs.
16:52.100S/178:34.793E, 11m, sand
A convenient anchorage on the west side of Vanua Levu, particularly if beating southwards against wind and current in the narrow channels on that side of the island. There is no village nearby. The palm trees on the peninsula give reasonable protection from even strongish trade winds. There is good holding in sand.
The trip inside the fringing reef from Yadua Passage on the west coast to Nasonisoni Passage on the south coast can be made in one day. There are no remaining navigation marks apart from some small buoys in Nasonisoni Passage, so good light is important to pick out the reefs and a few isolated dangers. It is a good plan to time this trip for favourable tide in Nasonisoni Passage. In general this is an easy trip from east to west and harder the other way, when lighter winds are preferable.
Savusavu has become something of a cruiser crossroads. It is a Port of Entry and most yachts arriving in Fiji from the east tend to clear in at Savusavu now. Official procedures are well organised by either the Copra Shed Marina or Wairui Marine, both of which rent moorings in the well protected Nakama Creek. Prices are very reasonable. There is virtually no room to anchor within the creek. Water is available at the docks and fuel, by can, from the petrol station on the front. There are a number of small supermarkets for supplies and some engineering and electrical services are available in the town. Internet was available from a centre at the Copra Shed Marina building. Parts can be shipped in from Suva or Nadi quite quickly. There are air and ferry links to Suva and Nadi. Savusavu controls the northern division of the islands and it is necessary to do at least an internal check in here. There are a variety of small restaurants in Savusavu. There are a few ‘hurricane moorings’ operated by the marinas on which boats can be left during cyclone season. There are buses across the island to the larger town of Labasa on the north coast. A trip there makes a nice day outing through the lush tropical flora of the south half of the island, followed by the dry cane fields of the north.
16;44.026S/179:42.831E, 14m, sand
Though the water is not terribly clear, the pass going into the harbour is distinct in reasonable light conditions, as is the curving pass between the reefs leading to the anchorage among the mangroves to the west. There is a significant tidal flow for which allowance must be made in choosing an anchoring position. There is good protection in moderate conditions. Though we did not test it, there is an anchorage position further in, in the cove extending westwards behind the second reef and mangroves. This would also be less affected by tidal current and might give better protection in stronger winds. There is good fossicking on the reef at low water, though one must be a little careful of the grounded moray eels, which may snap at one’s feet!
This bay is on the south-eastern corner of Vanua Levu, opposite the coast of Taveuni Island. There are several passes into the Bay, but the easiest entrance is through the pass to the northeast of the Bay itself. Though there is a shallower spot in this pass it is easily avoided. The Bay extends to the west. There are potential anchorages on the north and south sides of the bay. That on the south side, tucked in an angle of a reef gives quite good protection from the southeast trades. It is also possible to anchor off the village at the head of the bay. The most attractive spot is on one of Jack Fisher’s two moorings off his house just south of the village at the head of the Bay. Caution is needed approaching the moorings as there is a reef between the anchorage immediately off the village and the moorings themselves. There are bommies strewn throughout the western end of the bay near the anchorage and moorings.
Jack is very welcoming and friendly to cruisers. He is something of a Fiji institution. For a small sum ($F10 per person in 2010) he will act as your guide for snorkelling or diving on Rainbow Reef, showing you where to anchor and where the best parts of the reef are. If you wish for somewhat more he will also accompany you to Taveuni to see the waterfalls and act as boat guard, as the there have been some thefts from yachts left unattended on the Taveuni side. Jack is also a mine of information about Fijian flora and a short hike into the bush with him is an education.
The village itself is welcoming. There is no need to do sevu sevu. There are no supplies.
16:43.121S/179:53.547E, 13m, mud & sand
The anchorage is in a pool just inside the relatively narrow, but deep entrance. There is room for three or four boats. Protection is good from any direction but north. There is significant tidal flow through the anchorage. There is no village. It is possible to take a dinghy some way up the river at high water through the quite dense mangrove swamp. There are all sorts of passages, which are clearly used by some locals on rafts. The main channel is fairly clear, but some care must be taken not to be stranded up a dead end on a falling tide.
Wallis is one half of the French overseas territory of Wallis and Futuna, the latter island is 125 nautical miles away to the west-south-west and has no fringing reef or well protected harbour. In contrast Wallis has both a fringing reef and at least one well protected anchorage as well as a very beautiful lagoon, with a few smaller islets.
The main and only well-marked, deep pass into the lagoon is at the southern end of the reef. It is very well marked, straight and short. However there is a very strong tidal flow on the ebb. When this is combined with fresh or strong south-east trades the pass can be difficult. Taken at slack water or on the flood the pass is quite straight forward, even though the transit marks are very difficult to make out.
Official clearance must be completed with the Gendarmes, who deal with Immigration, and with Customs. The gendarmerie is in the centre of the main village, Mata Utu, in the middle of the east side of the island. The Customs office is about a kilometre or so to the north on the left side of the main road. Immediate clearance does not seem to be essential, so that a weekend arrival can wait for clearance until Monday. We found it possible to get both entry and exit clearance at the same time if staying only a few days. If trade winds are strong, anchoring off the main village may not be practicable or safe, as the anchorage has no protection from the east. Locals are happy to give lifts to wandering cruisers. Distances on the island are not great so that those with bikes aboard may be happy to cycle around.
As at other French overseas territories, the standard of living for locals is high, as is the cost. Infrastructure is very good, as are services – all heavily subsidised by the French government, which also provides 70% of employment. All supplies are available at a price. If you ask nicely you may be able to get water by jerry can at the gas terminal at Halalo. Diesel is only available from petrol stations at the main village or in the centre of island. There is one ATM hidden in a corner of the shopping mall about a kilometre west of the main village. There are three small supermarkets. Visa cards seem to work in some but not others. There is one electronics shop in the main village offering Internet service, but the connection was so poor and expensive that it was not worth the time or expense. There are some marine services available on the island, though they are more oriented to fishermen with outboard powered boats than yachts. There are flights from the island to Fiji.
The island scenery is lush and attractive. Housing is mostly modern and there are well-tended gardens everywhere. There seemed to be more cars than people and traffic on the main roads was quite heavy. There are attractive lakes in volcanic craters in the middle of the island. Distances are not great and cycling to most parts of the island is fairly pleasant.
There are numerous potential anchorages around the lagoon in settled weather, giving opportunities for snorkelling or diving. In strong trade wind conditions the only good anchorages are in the lee of Ile Faioa or in the pool among the reefs at Halalo at the southern end of the main island.
13:22.796S/176:10.615W, 18m, sand & coral heads
The island is uninhabited, though there are various picnic spots set up by locals for weekend visits. The lee side of the island has a very nice beach. The windward side is good for reef fossicking at low water. The anchorage in the lee of the island gives good protection in normal trade wind conditions, however there are numerous coral heads on the bottom, making anchor recovery potentially trying. There are better sand patches closer inshore if one is willing to get into quite shallow water. The area off the northern half of the island is very shallow over coral reef.
13:20.150S/176:13.410W, 14m, sand
The Island’s gas and fuel storage is in tanks on a jetty at Halalo. This jetty gives some protection to a pool to its west, surrounded by reef. There is room for four or five yachts to anchor with care. There are some marks for the narrow entry to the anchorage pool. The reef may be clearly made out in reasonable light conditions. There is good holding in sand. Dinghy landing may be made at the head of the cut, which runs along the lee side of the jetty. This anchorage is the best protected in Wallis, though it is not particularly attractive. Once ashore, it is some distance to any of the island villages, though locals seem happy to give lifts to reach the shops in either of the larger villages.
There is an anchorage to the west of the small island near the pass. It is well protected from trade winds, but is rather deep.
The country comprises nine inhabited and several uninhabited islands. By far the largest population is on Funafuti. Only one other island, Nukufetau, has a navigable lagoon in which yachts may anchor. Most of the islands are very low and the existence of the country is considered to be under threat by any rise in sea levels. Official clearance is straight forward involving only Customs and Immigration. Officials were helpful and professional.
08:30.840S/177:11.596E, 14m, sand & coral
Funafuti is the capital island of Tuvalu. The island is only about 8 miles long with a maximum width of 0.4 of a mile, although in some places this narrows to 200 yards. If one wishes to visit any other island in the country one must first clear in here and seek permission, which is not always given. There are several passes into the large lagoon. None are marked, though the two major passes are well and accurately charted. The most commonly used are at the northern and southern ends of the fringing reef. There are a few navigational marks within the lagoon, but some on the charts have disappeared. In good light the dangers can generally be seen. Anchorage may be found almost anywhere along the island inside the lagoon, where a space clear of coral may be found. Most protection is probably found in the area near the main wharf or somewhat to its west. This is also convenient for dinghy landing at the wharf and for the Customs office there. However, it is a long walk into town unless a friendly local gives a lift. We used bicycles. In some ways it may be more convenient to town to anchor nearer the small hotel jetty and large disused wharf, but this area is deeper and less protected. Immigration clearance must be sought at the Immigration office on the ground floor of the main government building in the town centre. Neither set of officials wished to visit the yacht. The Immigration officer wanted an immigration clearance document, something we had not come across previously. However, there seemed to be no problem that we had none and we did have exit stamps in our passports.
Water is not easily available on the island as the only source of fresh water is from rain or a small desalination plant. If you ask nicely it may be possible to get water from the Police patrol vessel, which is operated in cooperation with the Australian Defence Force and has a large water-maker. Diesel fuel is available by jerry can from the fuelling depot a short walk north of the wharf. There is no ATM on the island, though cash may be obtained with some difficulty, and at a poor rate of exchange, at the Bank of Tuvalu in the town centre. Australian dollars are used and it would be wise to bring some if planning a visit. The more educated Tuvaluans, including all the officials we met, speak English (which is an official language of the country), but most others speak only Tuvaluan.
There are numerous small shops on the island with a limited variety of supplies. The largest of these is opposite the town hall, near the large primary school to the south of the hospital. Fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to find. There is an informal market on weekday mornings for some fresh produce in the little park between the main government building and the ‘international airport’. A small amount of produce arrives from Fiji, but it has been refrigerated for some time and may not have much ‘life’ left. International telephone calls may be made from the Telecom centre opposite the main government building. There are regular flights to Fiji as well as supply ships every few weeks. Women are expected to dress discreetly and Sunday is observed quite strictly on the island.
The people of Funafuti are generally friendly, helpful and welcoming. However, the island is a challenging place to live. Quite apart from the lack of fresh water, there is little room or fertile soil for cultivation and the island is very overcrowded, so that housing is cramped and mostly fairly unattractive modern cinder-block construction. Because the island is really only a strip of coral rock with a maximum height above sea-level of about 3 metres, nothing can be buried and any hole fills up with brackish water. As a result there are above-ground graves scattered everywhere. Worse still there are piles of rubbish where ever you go. Unfortunately these problems have been exacerbated by the construction during World War II of an airstrip which took up much of the only fertile land and used coral rock dug from pits around the island. These pits are surrounded by Funafuti’s poorest housing and their brackish water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and rats.
This all makes the island sound less than pleasant. However, we did enjoy our visit because of the welcoming and cheerful nature of the islanders.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) comprise widely scattered islands just north of the equator. Kosrae is the furthest east and Yap the furthest west. Pohnpei (Ponape) and Chuuk (Truk) lie between, along with various other islands, mostly with few if any inhabitants. Tiny Kapingamarangi is isolated to the southwest. Each island or island group is semi-autonomous and has its own officials and local government. However, the country has a national government, which coordinates some aspects of policy, law and regulation. The national government is based in Pohnpei. FSM has had close links with the USA ever since World War II and is supported by it with aid. The US dollar is the currency and FSM is part of the US phone and postal systems. The latter can be an advantage if ordering parts from the USA. While the former means that phone calls are relatively inexpensive.
It is a requirement to get a cruising permit prior to arrival in the first of the island states. Application should be made at least a month and preferably more before intended arrival. Current procedures will be found on the national website. Yachts arriving without a cruising permit appear to be given less than a warm welcome. However, if it can either be shown that an application was made well before-hand (a fax receipt is useful for this) or a very good excuse can be made, usually a cruising permit application can be made on the spot and the application forwarded to Pohnpei. However, the yacht will not be allowed to continue further until the permit is received back from Pohnpei. Time for this appeared to be in the order of a week to ten days at Kosrae. Visas are issued on arrival for citizens of most countries, usually for 30 days. Extensions may be applied for. Quarantine will confiscate most fresh fruit and vegetables.
Kosrae is a high island with only a narrow fringing reef and coastal plain. There is said to be excellent diving on some parts of the reef and there are several dive resorts on the island. Though there are one or two other possible anchorages in the south and west, the easiest access and the most commonly used is Lelu Harbour on the east side of the island. This is also closest to the main village of Tofol, where all officials are based.
On arrival yachts should call Marine Resources on VHF 16. Officials will then come to Lele village. They may ask you to bring the yacht to the quay. Most will not wish to do this, as the quay side is very rough stone. There is significant tidal flow past it and some chop when wind opposes tide, as it usually does. Our experience, and that of three other yachts while there, was that Customs and Immigration were happy to carry out procedures ashore, but the Quarantine officer wished to be taken to the yacht by dinghy for his inspection. Officials were efficient, professional and spoke good English. There was a small fee for Quarantine clearance. Outward clearance was taken at the offices in the main village. It was possible to obtain quarantine clearance for produce bought in Kosrae, so that this would not be confiscated in Pohnpei. The fee for this was $US 1.
There is one ATM on the island in the same building as Customs and Immigration. Food and other supplies are quite limited. There are small shops scattered about, one larger shop in Lele village and another on the road to the airport to the north of the island. Fresh produce is particularly hard to get, though there are a few roadside stalls with limited variety. It is best to get to these fairly early in the day. Diesel is only available by jerry can at one of the various informal fuel stalls around the island. The fuel comes from big drums and may need filtering. For those with no water-maker, filling tanks should not be a problem, so long as you have a good system for catching rain water, which is plentiful. There is Wi-fi available on board while anchored in the harbour, for a small fee paid in Tofol. The island has an airport big enough to handle larger planes and there are regular flights connecting to other islands and to well used major international air routes. However, flights from the island are expensive.
Because the population of the island is very small (estimated at 6,000-7,000), personal contacts are particularly useful. Smith Sigrah and his wife Almitta run the excellent Ace Hardware store in Lele. This store has at least as good a range as any we saw in the USA and can provide most non-yacht specific hardware needs as well as help with outboards. The Sigrah family are very cruiser-friendly. The set of steps in the seawall below their house, to the west of the wharf, is a convenient dinghy landing spot, which they let most cruisers use. They are very generous with sharing their bananas. Another excellent contact is with Mark and Maria Stephens at Pacific Tree Resort. They are also very friendly to cruisers and will help in any way they can. In addition, to the resort and restaurant, Mark and Maria run a United Nations sponsored recycling scheme for the island which helps to keep it clear of one of the worst effects of ‘civilisation’, discarded drink cans and plastic bottles.
The ruins behind Lele village are very interesting and provide a fore-taste for the much more impressive monumental ruins at Nan Madol at Pohnpei. The flat road which runs much of the way round the island gives pleasant opportunities for biking, though it is necessary to arm oneself with sticks and stones against the local dogs which are intent on chasing and nipping passing cyclists and sometimes those walking. There are a couple of good hikes on the island. It is pretty much essential to take a guide as the tracks are not always clear and in any case permission and payment would have to be made with the land owner who may also be the guide. The longest of the hikes is to the top of Mt. Finkol, the highest point on the island, 2,064 feet. This is a demanding 8 hour hike with some very steep sections. After rain the track can be very muddy. Views from the top are spectacular.
The most usual anchorage is off Lele village to the west of the wharf, but east of the large church. It is convenient and quite well sheltered except from strong easterlies. In fresh trade winds, there is significant chop on the ebb. We had reports from other yachts that the holding is suspect in heavy winds. We had no problem. The water is subject to run-off and so is not very clear. There is an alternative anchorage beyond the central harbour reef on the south side of the harbour. This is more protected from strong trade winds, has less tidal flow and has clearer water, but is not so convenient. At this anchorage it is necessary to seek the permission of a landowner to land one’s dinghy and cross to the road.
Bustling Pohnpei, or at least the main town of Kolonia, provides a sharp contrast to sleepy Kosrae. There are petrol stations, supermarkets and opportunities to fill gas bottles. There are even some embassies. The island is a good deal larger than Kosrae and also high in its centre. There is a fringing reef and some sizeable areas of lagoon within the reef. There are many passes into the reef but only four major ones, in the east near the Nan Madol ruins and in the south at both Palikalao and Ronkiti. There are potential anchorages at each of these, but they are rarely used by cruisers, partly because permission would have to be sought from land-owners. The main pass is in the north. It is well marked and easy with a clearly marked channel in to the main wharf. The reason for this is that most of Pohnpei State’s income is derived from fishing licences. There are large numbers of tuna boats, as well as factory ships, anchored within the reef at the north end of the island and usually there are several vessels at the main wharf. It is a busy harbour. Just beyond the main wharf there is a smaller dock area where the FSM patrol vessels moor. This is also the area where yachts are likely to be directed to come alongside for clearance. Call ahead to Port Control on VHF 16 when within range to give warning of your arrival. Officials will come to the dock and board for clearance. Procedures and requirements are the same as Kosrae. Outward clearance from the port must also be obtained at this dock, though prior clearance from the customs office in town is also necessary. There is a significant port fee (US$65 for our 40 foot boat) which must be paid at the time of clearance at the Port Office, about ten minutes walk away.
06:57.247N/158:12.054E, 8m, mud
Once cleared, make your way to the anchorage at the head of the harbour. The channel is not clearly marked and much of the western side of the bay is encumbered by reef. Stay close to the eastern shore initially. Leave the small island off the next dock to starboard and then follow the eastern shore around leaving the next small islet fairly close to port. After that head toward the anchorage where there are likely to be several resident yachts. When we visited there were a few live-aboards working on the island. There is plenty of room, but the harbour does shoal toward the head in the southwest. There are a few yachts on moorings in the southeast corner, one or two of which appear to be derelict. Holding in the anchorage seemed good to us in thick mud. However, we had reports from other cruisers of problems with holding in strong winds.
At one time there was an active dock, water, fuel and a small bar/restaurant in the southeast corner, 'Rumors Marina'. This is now defunct, though it is still possible to land at the dock with care, as it is gradually falling apart. There is also a small concrete ramp next to the remains of the bar. From here there is a steep concrete driveway up to the main road and the Ocean View Hotel. At the Hotel it is possible use wi-fi Internet on one’s own computer if you patronise the bar. The owner, Lucy Panuelo, is helpful to cruisers and will also allow use of the Hotel phone if you use your own calling card for anything but local calls. She also allowed us to park our bikes at the hotel during our stay. Lucy’s brother is in the process of building a small marina at the head of the bay. It is unclear whether this will be of much use to cruisers. Dinghy landing is also possible on the east side of the anchorage at the concrete dock of the Kapinga Village.
Fuel is available by jerry can from the petrol station a short walk along the road from the Hotel. For those with no water-maker, filling tanks should not be a problem, so long as you have a good system for catching rain water, which is plentiful. In fact, Pohnpei is generally considered to be a rainy island, with at least showers most days. There are several supermarkets, which stock mostly products from the USA. There is a fair range of refrigerated, imported fresh produce. There is a small market for local fresh produce and fish near the petrol station, but variety is very limited. A larger supermarket with pretensions as a mall was due to open shortly after our visit. We don’t know how useful this would be to cruisers, as it was some distance out of town. Gas bottles can be filled at the gas depot on the western side of the peninsula, which Kolonia straddles. There is a small tourist information office in town and a US post office. The telecom building has two computers available for Internet use for a small fee. There are flights from Pohnpei which can connect to well travelled air routes to Europe and the USA. These flights are somewhat cheaper than those from Kosrae, but still rather expensive.
One of the primary reasons for a visit to Pohnpei is to see the monumental ruins at Nan Madol on small islands on the east side of the main island. Originally the site was a complex of islands with stone structures of varying height, purpose and complexity, all inter-connected by a canal system. Though the structures are no rivals to those of the Maya or Inca from a similar period, they are very impressive, built from very large basalt blocks and columns quarried some distance away, ferried to the site and hauled into place.
The tourist centre has the best information available about the ruins. There are basically three ways to see the ruins. It is possible to go by land in a hire car or taxi and then hike in through the mangroves. This must be timed to coincide with low tide. There is also a pass near the ruins, which would allow a yacht to approach and anchor nearby, then dinghy in; this should coincide with high tide. The trip around outside the reef from the Kolonia anchorage is about 25 miles one way. Finally there are guided day tours available by fast launch from the Village Hotel. These include some snorkelling opportunities and a chance to kayak around the canals among the ruins with a guide. It has to be said that the guides we had, though helpful and pleasant were not trained as guides nor were they really knowledgeable about the ruins. The guided tour is the most convenient and interesting, but most expensive. Hire cars and taxis are also not cheap, are quite inconvenient and involve seeing the ruins with little or no water around them. Taking a yacht to the ruins is convenient, if time-consuming. The area near the ruins is not well charted.
O6:46.533N/158:00.926E, 15m, sand & coral
While at Pohnpei it is worth making a side trip to Andh or Ant Atoll. Permission should be sought from the family who own the island, though making contact may not be easy. The island is uninhabited, has white sand beaches and lush vegetation. There is some good snorkelling on some of the reefs inside the lagoon. In short, it is the picture of a tropical paradise. It also gives something of a break from Pohnpei’s rainfall, as it is drier. Entry into the lagoon is through a narrow and winding pass on the south side of the atoll. There are some beacons in the channel and the reefs are clear in any reasonable light. There is strong tidal flow and in any strength of southeast trade wind the entrance can be rough on the ebb. Preferably entry should be made at slack tide or on the flood. Finding an anchorage in reasonable depth along the shores of the two windward islands is not all that easy. There are large coral heads close to the only sandy shelf, but it is possible to find swinging room on the edge of the sand.
13:26.9N/144.40.1E, entrance to the anchorage and mooring area
Geographically, the island of Guam is part of the Northern Marianas, though it is politically and economically separate. The island is in an area which regularly generates typhoons, from which there is no very good shelter for yachts apart from one mangrove creek, which we were told is mostly filled with local yachts, many derelict, on poorly maintained moorings. The island is home to major US Navy and Air Force bases, which are likely to be expanded with the significant withdrawal of US forces from Okinawa in Japan.
Guam is an unincorporated territory of the USA. For virtually all practical purposes this means that it is part of the USA and entry requirements and restrictions are the same as for any other entry to the USA. This means that citizens of other countries are required to have a visa prior to arrival as the visa waiver program does not apply to those arriving by yacht. Immigration procedures are dealt with by a Federal US official, while Customs and Quarantine are dealt with by officials of the government of Guam. No official asked to board a yacht while we were there.
Apra is a superb natural harbour, however, the area available for yachts is very limited and surrounded by reefs. On entry to the main harbour follow the leading line up the main channel until you reach the buoyed channel, which branches to starboard toward the patrolled entrance to the Navy base to the south. Follow this channel to clear the surrounding shoals, then turn more easterly to pick up the stakes and small buoys marking the shoals which surround the anchorage off the Marianas Yacht Club (MYC), which is situated on Drydock Island. There are a number of moorings in this area with some local boats on them. Most of these moorings are not suitable for larger yachts and even the best are probably not good for yachts over about 12 tons and 42 feet. The moorings are mostly private. Consult Club members about their suitability and availability. There is a small area inshore of the most westerly moorings and also between those moorings and Polaris Point where it is possible for larger yachts to anchor. Depths vary considerably. The bottom is sand and coral. Dinghy landing is on the beach at the MYC.
The MYC is a friendly and welcoming club, but it is generally closed on weekdays. However, the washing and toilet facilities of the club are open and the telephone is available for local calls. A good contact to get information about access to the Club is Cindy Bell, telephone number 482.2785. She and her husband Chris are very helpful to visiting cruisers. There are usually club members about the Club at weekends. There is wi-fi available at the Club, but while we were there its operation was intermittent.
Hagatna is the main town of the island. The centre of the town and all supplies and services are over 5 miles from the MYC. It is very difficult to do any restocking in Guam without a car. Taxis are very expensive. Cruisers often band together to rent a car. The town is like a huge strip mall with virtually all stores on or just off the main road. That said almost all supplies are available at prices only slightly higher than in mainland USA. There are virtually no yacht-specific supplies or services. However, parts can be shipped in very easily and quickly from the USA, though larger or hazardous items requiring surface transport are likely to take at least one month and perhaps more. Guam is part of the US postal and telephone systems. There are international flights from Guam, connecting to major routes via Manila, Taipei and Tokyo. Fuel is available from petrol stations, water by jerry can from the MYC. We understood that it was possible to get gas bottles filled, but cannot guarantee this. Whether bottles not fitted with the American 'over fill protection device' would be filled is another question. As so often, the more highly developed a country the harder it is for a visiting cruiser to find Internet access. If the MYC wi-fi is not working, we understand that Internet is available at the Seaman’s Mission. It was also possible to take one’s own computer to one of the McDonald’s and use free wi-fi there.
We stopped in Guam, only to restock on the way to Japan and so did nothing to explore the island. We understand from cruisers who have, that once beyond Hagatna, the countryside is attractive and that there are interesting aspects to the culture of the local indigenous people.